In 2018 the Open Society Foundations and the William and Mary Greve Foundation made donations to the University of Helsinki in support of the multidisciplinary Religion, Conflict and Dialogue research centre under the Faculty of Theology. Specifically, the donations will promote research on the role of religion and gender in conflicts and their resolution.
Didem Abaday: Islam is not just the institutional practice of religion and political activism, but also everyday lived religion and self-presentation
The Turkish-born specialist in global Islam and Islamic feminism Didem Abaday arrives at the RCD from Stockholm University where she has been working as a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Ethnology, History of Religions and Gender Studies.
Abaday’s research topics include Muslim identities in Muslim-majority and Muslim-minority countries, Islamic women’s movements, Islamic fashion and dress, as well as the Muslim diaspora. Her currently ongoing research project entitled ‘Contemporary Encounters between Islamic Dress, Fashion and Gender: Pious Muslim Women’s Sartorial Strategies in Diaspora’ examines Muslim cosmopolitanism and Islamic dress from the perspective of lived religion in both European and North American immigration contexts.
“My research highlights the complex relationship between Islamic ethics and aesthetics that Muslim women negotiate when veiling themselves in conjunction with their diaspora. In the process, questions of religion and practising it, as well as those of self-presentation in both private and public spaces are manifested in a concrete way. I wish to emphasise the importance of investigating biographical experiences of the meaning of religion in everyday life. It’s not just about discursive practices, but subjective processes of meaning in lived life,” Abaday says.
According to Abaday, recent ethnographic research has increasingly examined the invisible and everyday customs of Muslim life.
“It’s good that research is also able to look behind the hyper-visible forms of the institutional practice of Islam, typically linked with certain kinds of Islamic political activism. With my work, I aim to contribute to the development of a research trend where the practices and religious meanings of everyday lived religion are examined in relation to anti-Islamic sentiments.”
Teemu Pauha: the multifaceted identities of religious minorities receive insufficient attention
Teemu Pauha, a specialist in the social psychology of religion, was originally educated as a psychologist. After completing his degree in psychology, he continued onto the study of religions, attaining both a master's degree and a doctorate.
In his doctoral dissertation entitled Religious and national identities among young Muslims in Finland: A view from the social constructionist social psychology of religion, completed in 2018, Pauha examined the national and religious identities of Finnish Muslims, or how to be specifically a ‘Finnish Muslim’.
“After defending my dissertation, I have been working as a grant-funded researcher in the discipline of social psychology, focusing my research on relations between religious groups. My other research topics have included apostasy, the moral psychology of Islamic sermons and the debate concerning the plans to build a grand mosque in Helsinki,” Pauha says.
At the Religion, Conflict and Dialogue research centre, Pauha will focus on the interrelations of Shias and Sunnis.
“What particularly interests me is the construction of group boundaries from the perspective of social psychology: how are others defined as belonging either to the same group or a different one? Are similarities between Sunni and Shia Muslims emphasised in certain situations and differences in other situations?”
Pauha believes that prevailing conceptions of Muslims are often rather stereotypical, and the differences between Muslims themselves are not given adequate consideration.
“Alongside devout Muslims there is a large group of ‘nominal Muslims’ for whom Islam is less about personal beliefs, and more about the customs of their family. Neither is Islam solely the religion of immigrants or their children; rather, Finland has a nearly 200-year-old Tatar community, and the number of Finnish converts is already in the thousands.”
The scholar finds it important to acknowledge the many identities of individuals.
“Muslims are not only Muslims either, but also women and men, Finns and Swedes, mothers, managers, homosexuals, social democrats, conscientious objectors, visually impaired, stamp collectors and so on."
"Hopefully my research will increase public understanding of the variety of Islam – of Muslims being just as diverse a group of people as, say, Christians.”
As a researcher, Pauha says he is spellbound by the number of ways in which religions influence contemporary Finnish society.
“Even though Finland is often considered a secularised country, religions continue to have a significant role in terms of politics, the public discourse on values and our national identity. The societal meaning of religion often stands out particularly clearly when examining religious minorities, such as Muslims.”
The activities of the Religion, Conflict and Dialogue research centre are continuously growing and the Faculty of Theology is currently looking for new partners and donors. Join us!